Brown County’s Wild Life
Brown County’s Wild Life
When I am speaking of Brown County’s Wild Life I am not speaking about it’s speakeasies or taverns or things like that. In fact, I don’t know of any tavern in Brown County nowadays. There are taste testing places at some of the wineries, and in other places that serve food with a drink, but no taverns as such, with the closing of the Pine Room Tavern, which had been a landmark for many, many years, I am speaking of its actual wildlife animals which we have so many of.
As I grew up in another state and then another county other than Brown County my family never saw the abundance of wild animals that I began seeing when I married and moved to Brown County.
I cannot recall ever seeing one deer much less an abundance of them until I actually moved here to begin my married life in Story. All around that tiny town you could drive around at night and see literally scores of deer in every field you passed. It was illegal to spotlight them but in order to count them you had to use one. I guess the conservation officers might have taken your word for it if they saw you spotting the deer if you did not have a gun in your car and it was just my husband showing me the fields full to overflowing with these magnificent creatures. But they never stopped us once and we became acquainted with all of the COs in those days. But when deer season started, at the first sound of a gunshot, every deer in every field, would flee to the Brown County State Park which was off limits to hunting.
Now in Jackson County to the south of Brown County where I grew up for about 10 years of my life and never saw even one deer, it is deluged with them. There are so many farmers down there who plant grain that it is much easier for the deer to find something to eat and they are much larger than those here in Brown County.
On two separate occasions in recent years I watched as two of these lovely creatures gave birth to their babies as I sat on a stool and washed our dishes. And watched out the window. How often have you even thought of seeing this event?
Another time, Mickey and I were in our garden, hoeing the tomatoes and we heard one of our two beagle dogs barking like crazy. We looked up and saw it running right toward us and a mama deer right on his tail kicking up dirt behind itself. The dog reached us and, crouching and shuddering, hid completely behind Mickey’s legs so the deer could not see any part of him. The deer finally looked up and saw both of us and came to a screeching halt. It had to have been thinking about “where did it go.” We figured the dog had gotten too close to its baby and was just taking care of its own.
Then there were the masked bandits in the Brown County State Park. By that I mean we saw raccoons by the dozens, mostly climbing into every trash barrel in the park looking for leftover food, strewing food and trash all around every barrel. Nowadays you cannot put anything in a trash barrel in the park because they were all removed several years ago to deter this mischievous creature. You are asked to bring trash bags into the park or pick up one at the gatehouse as you check in and take all trash out with you when you leave that you had brought into the park.
These little guys are such fun to watch. I have a funny story about one. My husband, Mickey, heard something on our back deck early in the night a long time ago. I always kept a locking trash barrel on that porch which held our dog’s food. When Mickey went onto the porch and turned the overhead light on, the lid was off the barrel of food and down on the floor. Somehow that little rascal had used its paws to turn the lid enough he could unlock the lid and had climbed into the kibble. As Mickey, looked down, that cheeky little guy was pushing food into his own mouth with one paw and offered Mickey a bit of kibble with the other front paw, as if to say, “Have a piece, I have lots of it here.”
Mickey, in his gruff voice told the little bandit to get out of there and it did and he relocked the food barrel, deterring the raccoon for the rest of the night at least.
Then about ten years ago we started seeing millions of sandhill cranes down in the Brownstown/Ewing bottoms. Every spring they came there on their way north and every fall they came there again to head south where they would migrate for the winter. While Mickey was outside one day he heard the call the birds made and saw the sky was nearly black with those birds. We have been on their flyway ever since.
During this past week of early March, most of them had left the bottoms where they stood in standing water overnight. The White River had overflowed its banks and left little indentations across hundreds of acres and that was exactly why they were there. The water, I read one year, was their protection so they stood in that water most of the time they were in our area. Their food, which they ate constantly, was the grains of corn or soybeans left there when the local farmers harvested their crops and the water had softened it. After a good feed-up of a couple of weeks or longer, you would see them start their next leg of the northern flight where they mate and raise their young. These birds are a good predictor of our coming weather. If they stay here longer, it means it is still too cold up north for them to begin nesting, so they keep feeding and stay a while yet.
In earlier years we had never once seen a congregation of birds like these gangly, stilt-legged birds in our area, now they are very common. When the cranes are in the air those long legs protrude backwards and act as their rudders. Mickey always thought there was something special about our ground which made them circle around and around over our place then when they got everything straightened out again, they would fly away. Our son, Douglas, came up with a better idea when he saw them this year. He said they were circling to gain height by flying on a thermal wind. That makes more sense to me.
Other wildlife we often see are `possums, coyotes, wild turkeys, and many other lesser critters.
Mickey happened to be looking out our dining room door one day about two years ago and saw a coyote take a flying leap and jump over the rail of our deck and land inside on the deck. Seeing Mickey’s cat, it immediately grabbed it in its mouth, made a quick U-turn and went back over the six-foot high deck rail with the cat in its mouth. It got a rude awakening when Mickey hollered at it to “Let my cat go.” When it’s feet hit the hard ground outside the deck it jarred the cat loose and it immediately ran up the big maple tree which stands there and went as high up as it could go. It took three days of trying to coax the cat down out of the tree, but it finally came back down. I expect hunger played a part in its return.
We usually hear the coyotes with their shrill barking, much like a dog’s bark only shriller, in the hardwoods behind our house every spring I expect during the birthing of their babies.
Another time we arrived home to find a coyote was mating with our coon dog up by our barn. Now most people say that animals will not mate with anything of another species, but this one did, and we got nine of the most beautiful puppies in a short while and kept one which turned out to be one of the strongest dogs I have ever known.
`Possums, or if you want to be exact, opposums, like to tease dogs. One day I was looking out my front door to see what the dog was barking so long about and saw it was a `possum playing `possum by pretending it was dead, just beyond the front door. That dog used its snout and tried valiantly to get it to move so it could grab it and that little beggar never moved an inch. About half an hour later it seemed to realize that the dog had gone away and it took it so long to look around by turning its head that it was almost impossible for me to see the move. Once the `possum realized the dog had gone it hopped up and took off like lightening to the nether regions of the hardwoods behind the house. Another time one very young ‘possum got into the first branch of a small tree next to our basement patio. It had evidently been there for some time because the dogs were exhausted but could not reach to that first tree branch. It would look down at the dogs and swish that ratty tail and I still think it was laughing at the dogs.
Just last week, Douglas was looking out our big dining room window and ran into the living room and told me to be quiet, but to come and see what he saw. For the first time in a very long time we counted 36 turkey hens walking sedately across the yard. There were several, most which came from the wooded area as the tail end of the first batch went into the north side of the woods so we could not keep track of exactly how many we saw. In the past we might see 15 or 20 hens but never this many. He made a video to prove it.
When I became disabled after having back surgery and then developing sepsis in the early 1990’s I went to the big lake across the road from our home and fished in their 10-acre lake nearly every pretty day. I was sitting on a big rock that jutted out of the ground near a small cove, catching a lot of bluegill fish when I saw a large shadow fly over my head. It landed in a dead tree snag on the other side of the cove which was at most 20 feet over to it. From its perch there it started screaming at me scolding me for being in its feeding grounds. It was the most beautiful bald eagle I had ever seen in the wild and up that close.
I let it screech at me for a time then pulled my equipment out of the water and left the magnificent bird to its own hunting foray. We occasionally see these birds closer to our home since the conservation department built nests for them to use down at Lake Monroe which as the crow flies isn’t that far away from us. The eagles are making a real comeback because of this bit of help from the COs.
That same nearby lake is a popular place to see scores of wild geese on the ground. I was there fishing again at another time, and I could hear birds flying toward the lake and turned to watch them. There were three geese in that bunch and they were dedicated to stopping at this lake and doing their own fishing. The ones on the ground did not like these three, I think because we have always been told that geese mate for life and here was a gander with two mates, which made the other geese on the ground become alert and nervous.
The minute the three landed, all the other ganders on the ground, went out to try to run these three off, but the new gander held his ground. He literally walked on water then would swim off really quickly to get away from the others, after flapping his wings in their faces. It was so amazing I had to stay and watch what would happen next. After about 15 minutes, the mates to the gander, went out to assist him and helped get him away from the unfriendly geese on the ground and now on the water chasing after him, but eventually the three newcomers gave up and lifted off the water. I had just witnessed a miracle I think. I had never seen a goose actually walk on water, but today I had.
In Nashville on an errand with Douglas last week he told me about a shop in Antique Alley that had intrigued him. The artist, using no oils or watercolors as most artists use, was producing animals from the woods by using a chainsaw atop a large stump, creating these creatures and they were so life-like that it was amazing. The remainder of the uncarved stump would become its stele I suppose. So, if you are ever visiting our fair town, take a short stroll into the Antique Alley and see another type of artist that I am telling you about. I would love to have one of his carvings in my front yard or on my deck.
We feed the birds in winter to try to save as many of them as we can with seed and suet and see so many species of these beautiful of God’s creatures it is a real pleasure to see and help them.
A salt block is usually standing out in our field so I can watch for the deer to come up and lick either the block itself or, after the salt has melted into the ground, they will lick also. We also maintain a small stack of hay to feed the deer in winter and a feeder we fill with shelled corn which spits out so many kernels at a time which help keep the deer and the turkeys from being destroyed in a heavily snowy winter.
We never shoot anything nor allow other hunters on our property anymore, especially bird hunters. For about three years in a row I had what I always referred to as a demented quail. It would stand out in the field and say “Bob” but could never say the second word “White”. It has been a while since I heard this one so I have to assume it is now deceased.
Another bird we hardly ever hear anymore is the lowly “Whip Poor Will”. Many years ago I was on the phone to New Jersey talking with my oldest brother when one of these guys sat out on the back deck rail and sang its song. My brother, Palmer, asked me to please stick the phone outside the sliding door and let him hear the bird sing, so I did. He said he had not heard a Whip Poor Will since we left Kentucky in 1948. So here I am paying long distance charges to let my big brother get one of his wishes.
Crows have taken over our farm. Some of them nest about 400 yards from our house and we have just about given up on them. But when we have a garden growing nicely and are about ready to harvest our sweet corn, they are real pests, but we also keep an old skillet outside and even feed these black cawing birds. They have to eat too I guess so we do that for them. They are about the size of a bantam chicken now and I’m always surprised they can rise from the ground and fly away to the treetop nest they are so big, but they manage. I even suggested to Mickey one time that we go to a laundromat and get their box of unmatched socks and slip one over every ear of corn, but he never wanted to do that. Seemed like a good solution to me.
I will mention snakes before I stop this little vignette. Yes, we have snakes here, rattlesnakes and copperhead snakes are the only poisonous ones that can bite you, but we have others that are not poisonous. If you are smart, you will give them their own space. Do not try to catch one with your bare hands, even on a dare. And whatever else you do, do not crawl back into a ground cavity and try to get one. And never reach into a woodpile in the Park or camping area without looking first to check for these snakes. Both species are protected by law. I have two sisters who are so petrified of snakes they scream at the very mention of snakes. I on the other hand, am glad to give them a wide berth and let them go their way while I go mine. As long as I know they are there, I feel safe. My greatest fear though is for something much smaller; BUGS! Especially June bugs or any type of beatle or worm. I fainted more times than I can count when I was young and my older sister put a June Bug down the back of my dress.
When we first moved here to the farm from down in Story, the only place I could make a garden that first year was the round circles made when Mickey burned trashy trees and brush. I was picking the last of the small round peppers to chop and freeze for soups when a tomato or tobacco worm got on one of my fingers and stayed there until I went screaming and hollering into the house and told Mickey to remove the ugly thing. His reply was, “If you will go into a cobra cage over at Nashville and take a picture of a pile of 75 cobras, I’m not getting a worm off your finger.” (I really had done that very thing one time.) I held that against him a long time and I never picked another pepper that whole year. So there.
So when I speak of wild life these animals and birds and such are about as wild as it gets at our house. Hope you enjoy these little vignettes about our wild “wildlife”.